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Taxis the new weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS
Friday 6 May 2005
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GABON: Taxis the new weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Taxi drivers are now involved in HIV/AIDS education

LIBREVILLE, 16 December (PLUSNEWS) - Flag down a red and white taxi in Gabon's capital between now and February and you might get more than you bargained for.

Around 300 taxi drivers in Libreville have been drafted into the fight against HIV/AIDS and are handing out free condoms to passengers as well as leaflets about the disease and practising safe sex.

And instead of adverts blaring from the bodywork and roof, there are boards emblazoned with slogans like "'Protect yourself from AIDS and protect those you love".

Libreville is home to about half of Gabon's 1.2 million people, and although the city's HIV prevalence rate is about a point lower than the national average of 8.1 percent, mayor Andre Dieudonne Berre knows there's no room for complacency when the country has one of the highest rates in the region.

"We need to make people aware and this is a mobile way to do it," he told reporters.

Since the campaign was launched just over two weeks ago, authorities estimate that almost 65,000 free condoms have been handed out.

Taxi drivers say they are a big hit, especially with students, who want to use contraception but don't want to be discovered mid-purchase by family members who might still associate it with immoral behaviour.

"Young people choose to hop in our taxis to stock up on condoms," explained one taxi driver. "But about one out of three passengers do take a leaflet as well."

One 20-year-old male catching a ride in one of the taxis was impressed with the handouts.

"These condoms are well packaged. They're better quality than those sold in corner shops," he said, declining to give his name. "I always use a condom now, ever since I got a urinary tract infection which cost my parents 100,000 CFA (US $200) in medical expenses and antibiotics."

Condoms in a Libreville pharmacy can cost anything from 1,200 CFA (US $2.45). If they are purchased from street vendors, the price drops to about 500 CFA (US $1 ).


The free supplies found in Libreville's new taxis have been donated by the National Programme to Fight AIDS (PLNS) but some Libreville residents were complaining that only male versions were available.

"The government should treat male and female condoms the same," primary school teacher Irene Boucah moaned. "There's an injustice that needs to be corrected because very few women have heard about or used female condoms and they should be publicised on a wide scale."

According to the PLNS, four million condoms were sold through pharmacies and other retail outlets like newspaper stands and lottery kiosks last year, but only 60,000 of those were female varieties.

Libreville officials said they hoped the female condoms - which allow the woman more control over protecting herself from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies - would soon be available in the taxis but said there were problems with stock at the moment.

Free contraception is not the only benefit of the initiative, health workers say. The taxis also provide a safe space to talk about sex and sexually-transmitted infections.

"These taxis break down certain taboos and promote dialogue about a subject which cannot be ignored by the population but which a large section of the population is still ignorant about," said Samuel Nang, a health worker at Libreville's main hospital.

And because many of Gabon's taxis are like mini buses, stopping to pick up extra passengers if there is space en route, the taxis also provide a forum for people to discuss the disease.

A PlusNews correspondent, who flagged down one of the special vehicles, sat in on a debate between the driver and two young passengers, one male and one female, which ranged from condoms to spermicides, from sexually-transmitted infections to the difficulties about talking about sex at home.

The drivers in the scheme, which runs until the end of February next year, volunteered to take part. They received no formal training but some have taken it upon themselves to memorise the leaflets so they can give advice, and others have come to the job with past experience.

"I worked in a nursing centre for five years," one driver, Moustapha, explained. "And I've also got kids of my own who've asked questions about sex."

His two student passengers got out of the cab, all the wiser - knowing how to use a condom properly and why it was so important.


Recent GABON Reports
New factory produces AIDS and anti-malarial drugs for the region,  15/Feb/05
Female condoms are subsidised, but not widely advertised,  21/Oct/04
Number of new HIV infections fell in 2003,  24/Sep/04
Government launches free AIDS helpline,  20/Sep/04
Price of AIDS testing and ARV drugs slashed,  10/Jun/04
AIDS Media Center
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services

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